As captain of finances, it’s the CFO’s job to make sure treasure chests are opened for the right opportunities. But to get hold of the Absolut keys, aspiring seekers need to navigate their cases through a tough archipelago, where all arguments are scrutinized by the warm hearted but highly competitive Irishman named Donny Tobin. We had a chat with him on how to make or break a case at the Absolut Company.
You’ve had a long career at Pernod Ricard. What’s your view on how the business have evolved over the years?
While we have grown as a business many ingredients have stayed constant… the amazing culture, great people, and strong brands. But over time, I think that the organization has become much more agile. It’s in many ways fair to say that the industry isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, when I joined the Pernod Ricard. Competition is more intense, consumers more dynamic. We are also bigger now and that means we also have more fire power to compete. But being bigger also means that expectations grow and as an organization, I think it’s crucial that you’re able to roll with the changes, and not try to fight them. For Pernod Ricard, I think that having adapted a more flexible attitude to embrace change, has made us more resilient to fast shifts in the markets. We have embarked on a digital transformation to further expand our business model, which I think has also helped us a lot during the pandemic. The ultimate ambition is to evolve into a platform company, where the brands and people can grow. Our people are resilient, our Business is resilient and that has proven to be successful in trying times.
TAC is working hard to foster and retain an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit within the company. How do you work with innovation in your team?
The overall creativity that’s inherent in TAC is amazing. As an organization, we’re really open to stretch the boundaries. And Finance is no different, playing a key role, whether on the product side, where we need to understand the consumer needs to fully be able to act as a sounding board for creative solutions or on the technology side to allow data to be more relevant and move faster to support decisions. It’s our job to connect the ‘business dots’ to enable innovation and to make sure we’re invest behind the right choices and at the right level. Of course, our Group Finance 4.0 vision is anchored on this progressive mindset.
Is development constantly required or are there still some old truths that always apply, especially in the field of finance?
Consumers continuously evolve… therefore organizations like TAC need to also evolve and be at the forefront of culture and creativity. Same also applies to Finance. Not only do we need to ensure that the foundations are strong, but we also need to embrace progress. Today, I think we have achieved a near perfect balance of a solid foundation and high-flying creativity revolving around that. And that is what helps us to continuously evolve as an organization. There are no revolutions, just progression, right. Both TAC and Pernod Ricard are organizations with solid core values and principles but with a curious mindset and that has helped us both become and continue to be successful. Our values and foundations stay the same, but our creativity can rotate freely around them, with Finance playing a great business partnering role.
What does the motto Passion for Progression mean to you?
I think that I didn’t perhaps fully appreciate the meaning until I came to TAC. The company has always stood for something and after coming here I now truly understand the value of always supporting progression and to move forward with the flow. I, as a person, am driven by passion. I believe that something inside you must burn for you to feel motivated, enabled and to be creative. I wholeheartedly support the notion of progression as a means to succeed – as a business and on a personal level.
What areas do you see as most important to continue to develop within TAC?
We need to take a closer look at where we want to win and how to win it. It’s a big part of my job to add value to the company by removing the mist and clarify the road forward. To help choose which battles to engage in and which challenges that are worth accepting. And this is something that I think we’re already good at, but that we can refine further to do even better. We have our strategic North Star, it’s our compass, now it’s about trusting people and empowering them to find their own way based on their experience, knowledge and skills.
What values do you think Absolut creates?
Together, Audacious, Committed… we have great values inherent in our brand and one thing we’re particularly good at is to stay true to these. We, as a company, are committed to do the right thing and I as a person was brought up with the same type of values. I want to win, but I only want to win in the right way, and I think the same goes for The Absolut Company.
Why did you join The Absolut Company?
Well, for starters, the job was offered to me. It took about 2 minutes to graciously accept the offer with a lot of pleasure. It’s a new experience for me; with new brands and in a new country. I’d only been to Sweden twice prior to joining The Absolut Company, but I had such a great feeling about coming here. Professionally, yes it was also a leadership step up, but The Absolut Company is the biggest in the family, with amazingly fun and relevant brands. I wanted an audacious experience and Absolut is for sure offering this.
How are you as a leader?
Although competitive and ambitious, I’d like to think that I’m a kind of down to earth leader. I hope I understand people and what makes them tick and how that energy can be transferred to the organization. I empower as much I can in my role as a leader and I put a lot of trust in my teams. Being a team player at heart, I love to hang around people and to be present where and when things are happening. Of course, I can be challenging if needed but I’m trying to be careful about when to play that card!!.
Do you have the same approach in the Management team?
I’m definitely not the quiet Irishman sitting in the corner… I think the other members of the management team see me as a guy who is always in the game but isn’t that easily stressed. And that I’m a guy who’s also seen as authentic. For me, it’s important to stay true to my values – in all aspects of life – both personal and professional.
One might say that you’ve been all over the place – being an expat Irishmen who has lived everywhere from Sydney to New York and who’s now based in Stockholm. Do you have a favorite spot in the world?
I like so many places, so it’s hard to pick a favorite as it keeps changing. When you travel as much as I do, you tend to pick up new favorite places along the way. But if you twist my arm, I can’t get around the fact that I still love to come home to my hometown in Tipperary, Ireland. One other place that stands out is Nepal. I trekked up to the basecamp on Everest a few years ago and for me, that was one of the most humbling and down to earth experiences in my life. An unforgettable trip in a fantastic country.
Besides traveling and pushing your own limits, what are you passionate about outside of work?
I’m a competitive guy so I am naturally drawn to anything sports related. You might even say that I’m a sports addict. When I lived in the US, I loved to coach youth soccer-teams. I love to see kids evolve. I have a lot of energy that needs to be released and sports is my way of getting things out of my system. I don’t like to sit still; I don’t read books and I don’t watch a lot of Netflix. But I do follow sports.
Which are your favorite teams?
I’m a passionate Man United fan if we talk about football. For Hurling – that’s a typical Irish sport – I of course root for my hometown Tipperary. And finally, when I lived in the US, I got hooked on American football and for some odd reason Kansas City Chiefs became my team.
What has been the most challenging moment in your career?
As a Finance director, I still find it somewhat challenging to overcome the prejudice about stiff shirts and ties, calculators, spreadsheets, and a dry sense of humor!!… Being an expat, it brings you the challenge of getting to know an organization quickly, ready to go from the start. But it takes time to settle in a new role, to plug in to an existing culture and finding out how you can add value. For one thing, I hope I never have to do this again in the middle of a pandemic, it was not easy from the other end of a screen. One of the greatest learnings of my life is that things are rarely as simple as they look on paper. Preconceptions are usually different to reality. You got to live the organization to understand the culture. In my experience, there’s never a one size fits all. When you move from role to role you need to spend some time understanding the people and the culture and adapt. And, maybe most importantly, you need to roll with the punches to rise to the challenges…. and have fun.
Paul Ricard had a motto to “make a friend every day” which is still a guiding principle within the group. What’s your best practice for achieving this?
I lean to people, it’s somewhat natural for me so I don’t need to read it every morning to remind me. I get my energy from people. In my life, I have some close friends, but many I like to hang out with and have great conversations with – preferably in a bar where you can have a drink and just chit chat about all and nothing.
What would you have done if you had not worked at TAC?
Well, that’s easy: Center Forward for Man United, of course. Or maybe enforcer at the back. To be honest, I have no regrets about my career. If I’d wanted to do something else, I would have done it. For me, it’s important to be attached and emotionally connected to what I do, and I have to say that for the last 18 years in Pernod Ricard, I’ve always felt that.